Monday, 20 July 2009

FREEDOM PASS -Update

At a recent meeting of the GLPA, we were informed by our Speaker, an Assembly Member of the Greater London Authority, that our information was wrong regarding the reserve power.

In order to clarify matters, we copy below an edited version of a letter received by one of our colleagues from his Member, (representing the London Borough of Brent), Mr. Navin Shah, which summarizes the history and details under which the Pass is and was issued:-

"....The Freedom Pass provides free travel for Londoners over 60. It started as free bus travel in 1973 which was extended to London Underground by the GLC in the 1980s. Following the abolition of the GLC the Freedom Pass became administered by London Councils (previously the Association of London Government), the umbrella organisation for London's 33 local authorities.London Councils is a politically represenative body whose make-up reflects the balance of power between parties across the London Boroughs.Following 2006 local elections London Councils is currently controlled by a conservative administration.

"Following establishment of the Greater London Authority (GLA) and Transport for London (TfL) in 2000 the Act of Parliament stated that TfL would make a contribution alongside the Boroughs. This Act also gave the Mayor the reserve power of arbitration should a stand-off between the Boroughs, or between the boroughs and TfL occur.The purpose of this was to guarantee the Freedom Pass as if one borough wished to opt out, it would not be able to.

"Ken Livingstone used this power repeatedly. Following a particularly fraught round of negotiations in 2007 Conservative members of the London Councils began to lobby against this power and some against the Freedom Pass itself. Cllr. Daniel Moylan (Kensington & Chelsea) accused the Mayor of "using the Freedom Pass as a stealth tax on Londoners" London Councils then lobbied strongly as England and Wales' Concessionary Bus Travel Bill was going through Parliament, sponsoring amendments that would have removed the reserve power codified in the Greater London Authority Act (1999). THE CURRENT MAYOR WHO WAS AN MP AT THE TIME, DID NOT VOTE ON THAT BILL.

"As candidate for Mayor of London,Boris Johnson promised "a new relationship with the boroughs" -and was lobbied strongly by some Conservative politicians in London - including members of the London Assembly to devolve powers to the boroughs. I am(Mr.Shah) of the belief this is a somewhat meaningless request. considering the powers of the Mayor are enshrined in an Act of Parliament. Any substantial devolution would require amendments in parliament.

"The Mayor has only weakened his powers in relation to the Boroughs in one respect- the Freedom Pass reserve Power. In February 2009 HE ANNOUNCED HE WAS AGREEING TO LONDON COUNCILS' WISHES BY PASSING THE POWER OF RESOLVING FREEMOM PASS DISPUTES TO AN INDEPENDENT ARBITER. THIS IS AGAINST THE WISHES OF CENTRAL GOVERNMENT, who have stated the reserve power was designed to ensure the continued existence of the Freedom Pass. While an independent arbiter is a model suitable to industrial relations, the reserve power was given to the Mayor as it was felt such a power should be held by someone with democratic accountability.

"I have discussed the history of the politics of the Freedom Pass before the election of this Mayor as I believe it is also important to note that Boris Johnson appointed Cllr Moylan to the Board of TfL. It is therefore unsurprising Boris Johnson devolved the reserve power away from himself.

"I do not think the chances of negotiations going to the arbiter are reduced by the devolution of this power. As part of the negotiations, London Councils agreed that Transport for London's contribtions could be capped until 2015. Therefore any rise in costs before that date will have to be covered by borough contributions, and so the scope for disagreement is somewhat larger.ONE BOROUGH CAN STILL HOLD THE WHOLE OF LONDON TO RANSOM, AND THE MAYOR NOW CANNOT OVERRIDE THIS PROTEST. It should also be remembered that the Mayor has extended the Freedom Pass for 24 hour usage. While I welcome this move for the benefits it brings, it must be noted this will increase the COST PRESSURES ON BOROUGHS.

"I felt it important to discuss the background to this change as I feel this is not an isolated attempt to alter concessionary travel in London.Nevertheless, this is a matter between the boroughs at London Councils, rather than between London Councils and TfL.

"There has been general agreement at London Councils that a move towards actual usage was favourable and fair. Each authority's contribution has always theoretically been based on usage.The introduction of the Oyster Card system allows London Councils and TfL to gain a more realistic measure of 'usage'.

"There are winners and losers from this new arrangement. Theoretically, boroughs with large elderly populations, and where a large number of the over 60s cannot afford to drive, will see their contributions increase significantly. Boroughs with large elderly populations, but where the over 60s are more reliant on cars are likely to be the winners from the transition to this new arrangement.

"It has been claimed that this will benefit the outer London Boroughs at the expense of the inner. However, the results will be a bit more nuanced than this in that only the outer London Boroughs with a low level of TfL services will benefit, while others with a high level of public transport provision are likely to see increased bills. For example, it is predicted the London Borough of Bromley, which only benefits from bus and tram TfL services, will gain £4.4m through the new arrangement, while Brent will lose £2.5m.The Majority of inner London Boroughs will see increases, e.g. Haringey are set to lose £2.5m. In the long run,costs are likely to rise for all, as we have an ageing population. I consider this a long term threat to the will of boroughs to provide the Freedom Pass, and the benefits the Pass brings to London's over 60 population therefore must not be forgotten.

"While I accept there is an argument where areas with fewer TfL services should pay less, I am concerned at both this fractured approach to transport in London and the effects of the transferred costs to some of the most strained boroughs in London...................................

"I do remain deeply concerned that the Mayor has relinquished his power of guarantee, and the unlikelihood of any future Mayor clamouring it back. The London Labour Party has long been greatly concerned at the appearance of a concerted threat to the Freeom Pass, and it is determined to maintain concessionary travel in Greater London."

We are grateful to Mr. Shah for this detailed information and appreciate how much work has gone into producing it. We hope that if Mr. Shah reads this edited version of his account and advice, he is happy with it. We shall of course be pleased to make any amendments he deems fair.

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